Back in April, we started a webinar series sharing tools and tips to help businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic and even hopefully come out the other end thriving. Online marketing was one of the topics we discussed early on, with two panelists: Brianna Bowling, local serial entrepreneur and owner of Retreat and Learn and Brindan; and Diane Devaney, co-owner of Devaney and Associates.
These six tips came out of our discussion in April and are just as important today.
1. Stay Connected.
With brick and mortar stores suddenly shut down in March, Diane described how they reached out to clients. She said, “The one thing we felt was important was reaching out to our clients to find out how they had been affected. This is the first thing in my life that has affected every single person, but it’s affected them in different ways.”
Her team took their list of clients and broke them down into groups by the kind of support they needed. Clients included businesses that were just trying to keep going, to ones dramatically affected like event management companies and restaurants. “We almost customized our reaching out to them,” said Diane.
Brianna’s challenges in marketing a new Retreat and Learn business were different, but she said, “Our role as a business owner is the same—to meet the needs of whoever our market is. We have to recognize as a business owner how our audience’s needs have changed and how we can still meet them.”
She realized that people still wanted education and ways of learning, but she couldn’t have people come to her location. “I can’t have [in person] retreats, but I can build audience, and right now I’m doing a series of educational 30-minute classes on Facebook Live,” Brianna said. “I just have to change the delivery of it, and by providing this education, I’m building my audience.”
2. Pick Your Social Media and Stick to It.
Social media is always valuable, but especially during this time, people are using it to stay connected. Focus on a couple of social media platforms that you’re comfortable with and fit your industry. Brianna said, ”It’s true, Instagram is probably a great place that I should be going to, but I know I can’t do it. There are just not enough hours in the day, so I’m going to focus on what I know and what I can do well.”
Also, consider your industry. LinkedIn can be helpful for connecting with professionals in targeted industries. A pet-sitting business might use all Facebook and Instagram. Hootsuite is a free tool to schedule posts.
If you want to try digital advertising, start small and measure your engagement—how many people clicked or shared or liked your post. Also, include a “call to action”, like to sign up for a newsletter or register for a conference. Facebook and LinkedIn ads both allow for targeting through demographic settings and industries.
3. Google is King – or Queen.
Google dominates the market, and Diane suggests you’ll get more for your money than you would with Bing.
Google Guarantee is a free service that you have to apply for. Google does a background check, and when accepted as a Google guaranteed business, you actually come up in searches above all of the paid ads. Diane said, “I will tell you, the application and approval process has slowed down.” What used to take 5-10 business days is taking twice that long to get approvals. Nevertheless, she urges every business to look into the Google Guarantee to see if it’s a good fit for their business.
Any new business should also make sure they’re on Google Maps. “If you’re established on Google Maps and hold events, or somebody is looking for a restaurant in your area, you’ve got to be established on there so they can find you,” says Diane.
Especially during these times, and with Google’s longer turnaround, businesses should make sure any modified hours and directions are listed on their website. They should also be using social media to promote those things.
4. Keep Content Fresh.
One of the best things for your website’s SEO is fresh content. The more content you can put out, the better. “We always have a goal of trying to repurpose any content 7 times, and we make sure to put it on social media,” said Diane. A blog or article can be broken down into smaller pieces that are more digestible on social media. A webinar can be turned into a blog.
Email is a great way of connecting and communicating with customers but sometimes can be challenging if you don’t have a solid email list or are afraid of email fatigue on the other end. Email lists are far more important than social media followers that may disappear. Make it a priority to grow your emails lists and also segment them by needs. Use creative ways to collect emails, like asking people to sign up for a newsletter or for discounts or entering a contest.
MailChimp and Constant Contact are two primary email platforms, and both have the capabilities of putting a plug-in onto your website so you can capture that data. MailChimp is free up to a certain number of email addresses.
“I always say that 1 + 1 = 3 every single time, and sometimes 1 +1 = 10 if you put your minds together,” says Brianna. Networking with people outside your normal email list or following can expand your network 300 or 400 times. And, online webinars, unlike in-person retreats, can reach audiences worldwide.
Sometimes, you just need to tell people what you want. Brianna advises, “If you never tell people what you’re trying to do, it won’t happen.” She teaches something called “Grilled Cheese Theory,” a concept based off of how her software company was formed through a conversation over a grilled cheese sandwich, years ago, with another stay-at-home mom. That relationship lead to a government contract 9 months later. So, proactively reach out and collaborate with others.